Yaeji – ‘WHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던’ review: a dazzling, genre-blurring tribute to communal spirit

Korean-American producer's new mixtape expands and elevates her intricate electronic sound

Yaeji has always held community – and, particularly, the communal power of music – close to the heart. In her early days as an artist, the Korean-American producer/singer (real name Kathy Yaeji Lee) would host dinners for musician friends, a weekly meet-up called ‘Curry in No Hurry’ in which they would play their new tracks for each other over a hearty home-cooked meal. Later, she would recall the surreal situation of having a fan propose to their partner on the dancefloor at one of her gigs. Despite being initially taken aback though, she would come to see the episode as indicative of music’s ability to unite, uplift and ultimately transport one to “a completely different place, or mood.”

New mixtape ‘WHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던’ – her multilingual debut release for XL Recordings – reflects this communal focus, described by the artist herself as being “so much about friendship, family, gratitude and support” and promoted by a series of livestream parties with fans. It’s a record that that sees Yaeji open her music up to collaborators both close and further afield too, calling upon friends and friends-of-friends including Brooklyn rapper Nappy Nina, Japanese DJ YonYon, British producer Shy One, Canadian visual artist Victoria Sin and more over the project’s 12 tracks.

Perhaps the end-product of such inclusive collaboration, or simply the sign of an artist eager to explore, ‘WHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던’ sees Yaeji’s intricate electronic sound both expanded and elevated. While she blended murmuring deep-house with minimalist hip-hop on 2017’s breakthrough ‘EP2’, this new release confounds and evades pigeon-holing at every turn. From the squelchy bass stabs of ‘MONEY CAN’T BUY’ to the clattering industrial-techno of ‘IN THE MIRROR 거울’, Yaeji even veers into the terrain of ambient New-age music on penultimate track ‘THESE DAYS 요즘’.

Yaeji has described the project as diary-like and while its fluctuating sound certainly has a sketchbook quality, the mixtape is full of searching and reflection lyrically too. ‘IN THE MIRROR 거울’ describes that familiar feeling of mile-high contemplation, while closer ‘Never Settling Down’ is a promise to keep true to oneself. Elsewhere on dreamy lead single ‘WAKING UP DOWN’, Yaeji looks for happiness in life’s simpler things – be that through cooking, making to-do lists or simply getting out of bed in the morning.

On the title-track, Yaeji brings things back to those closest to her, singing in Korean: “Thanks to the ones that walk alongside me… What we wanted / We’ve created that place together,” while on ‘MONEY CAN’T BUY’, she sings: “What I wanna have / Money can’t buy… What I wanna do, Is be friends with you”. It may feel a little bittersweet set to the current backdrop of global self-isolation but a record as richly textured as this, and with its focus on communal connection, makes it a ripe world to explore in trying times like these.

Details

Release date: April 2

Record label: XL Recordings

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